Proper Table Setting - How to Set a Table

Learn How to Set a Table for Your Next Formal Dinner

Place settings on elegant dining table
Astronaut Images / Getty Images

Hosting a dinner and need a reminder of how to set a proper table setting and where the cutlery should be placed around the tableware? Forget which side the water glass goes on or where the napkin should be placed?

Our lives are pretty hectic, and since eating in front of the television has become the norm for some of us, it's easy to forget how to set a nice table and the proper placement of tableware and cutlery. So here's a quick refresher on how to set a table for that 'perfect' dinner.

Keep in mind that traditions and cultures will often influence what a proper dinner table setting should be like, so it can vary depending where you live. But as long as you keep your table organized - every place setting is the same, all the essentials such as stemware, dinnerware and cutlery are conveniently placed at each place and you've dressed the surface to create a warm dinner space, it will be acceptable. The following is the traditional way to set each place setting on the dinner table:

Top:  From Left to Right

  • Bread plate with butter knife (top left of dinner plate)
  • Coffee cup (top right of dinner plate)
  • Water glass
  • Wine glass
  • Liqueur glass


Bottom: From Left to Right

  • Salad fork
  • Dinner fork
  • Dessert fork
  • Dinner plate with salad or soup bowl on it
  • Knife (can add a butter knife)
  • Soup spoon
  • Small spoon

Table linens, whether a full tablecloth or individual placemats are essential to give your table an elegant, soft and inviting look. Fabric tends to absorb sound, so it can also make the dinner table more intimate.

Napkin placement depends on your preference and there are many folding variations. As a default, it can be placed (fanned and folded) in the water glass, simply folded on the dinner plate, or placed beside or underneath the flatware to the left. Some tableware pieces may of course be optional, depending on the dinner to be served.

Setting a beautiful table is not difficult, nor do you need expensive tableware or silverware. Arrangement and creativity are the key to a pretty place setting. You can also add a plate charger under each dinner plate setting. These tend to add glam to the table.

Adding a table centerpiece will complete the decor and you can buy something appropriate or make your own. A sprig of evergreen in a vase, a crystal bowl filled with holiday tree balls, or a gold-painted pumpkin are examples of simple, do it yourself table centerpieces. Candles help to create an intimate atmosphere, but keep them unscented as some people have sensitivities to scents.

Being creative with the decor will help bring out your personality and particular style. The objective of setting a nice dinner table is to create a soft, intimate and elegant place to break bread with family and friends, to share together and build memories.

  • How to Set a Table Video

Don't stress out over your table settings. Add a punch of color if everything is neutral and above all, enjoy hosting this dinner.

Read More About Table Setting & Tabletop Tips:

If you're setting a table for a formal dinner, my hosting tips can help. Preplanning for a special dinner is key to serving on time and maintaining the proper temperature of food. It also alleviates stress and makes your dinner party more enjoyable for guests as well as for yourself, the host.

Having the right equipment for a dinner party can help you to stay on target when it comes to serving. It's also easier to cook for a group when you use the right equipment. Find some helpful tips about products for buffets or housewares for serving at special events, formal dinners, weddings or group and sports socials.